Saturday, September 27, 2008

Will Strahl Cross the Lubicon?

Lubicon Cree remains contentious issue for Canada -- the time to solve the problem is now

In a bid to shore up support for his party, Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl made a recent trip through Canada's north.

While campaigning in the north, Strahl naturally addressed numerous typical campaign issues.

However, one item related to Strahl's ministerial portfolio did not appear on the agenda: that of the Lubicon Cree.

This is of little surprise. The sad tale surrounding the Lubicon Cree has been a traditionally overlooked issue in Canadian politics for more than one hundred years.

The story of the Lubicon Cree is one that will almost certainly be unfamiliar to most Canadians -- that of a band of Alberta aboriginals left out of the Treaty 8 negotiations, and who ever since have been fighting for recognition of their right to their land.

The Alberta provincial government has allowed billions of dollars in lumber, mineral and oil and gas developments to go forth in the Lubicon Lake area, with no compensation to the Lubicon.

Developments in the area have not only encroached upon traditional hunting and trapping grounds (although this is something that one should have expected would inevitably happened even under economic development directed by the Lubicon themselves). Oil and gas developments have also contaminated their water supply.

The government has been attempting to negotiate with the Lubicon Cree since 1939.

In 1999, prospects for a mutually satisfying agreement seemed strong. Yet November 2000 talks had broken down and the Lubicon cree were set to wait another two weeks for talks to resume.

By 2005, the United Nations has been pressuring Canada to resume negotiations and groups friendly to the Lubicon were forced to resort to protesting companies investing in the area and boycotting companies yet to invest there.

The national paradox that is the historical debacle surrounding the Lubicon Cree simply must be rectified. The rights of the Lubicon Cree must be recognized and respected, and the damage to their way of life reversed as best possible.

Certainly, there's little incentive for Chuck Strahl to solve this problem -- or even start talking about it. The media coverage of the controversy has been sporadic, and all too often sustained by protest action by groups such as Friends of the Lubicon.

But that may be the best reason for Strahl to finally be the man to tackle this issue head-on. Strahl isn't likely to score many political points by addressing the plight of the Lubicon. In fact, that in time may draw protest from those most slavishly devoted to the oil and gas industry.

The expectations of the Lubicon -- undiplomatically phrased as demands -- aren't altogether unreasonable. They are the standard expectations of Canadian aboriginals: self-government, restitution, and land claim settlements.

They also expect government help establishing a secure potable water supply in their community, although their demand that the focus on establishing the service of potable water to the homes of elders first should be rejected. (Instead, water service should be prioritized to homes with children of any age, especially very young children.)

But at the end of the day, settling the issues surrounding the Lubicon Cree is the right thing to do. That is why Chuck Strahl, for the good of all Canadians, must find it in himself to finally cross this (ironically) metaphorical Rubicon of Aboriginal affairs in Canada.

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